Do you have to like a show’s lead? I’m riffing a little on a question I asked a while back… but I think there’s a subtle difference, here. Probably the most basic criterion anybody has for a story is whether they like the characters - - hell, there are whole books about making characters likable. I’ve heard many a show written off with comments like, “The main character’s an ass. I couldn’t STAND him!”
But is likability really the issue?
Most of the big shows I’ve been watching and enjoying here have had deeply-flawed protagonists. And they’re not the typical “He’s a jerk, but he gets better” flawed characters you encounter everywhere else. Light was, of course, a masterful liar on top of being the most, well, prolific serial killer in DEATH NOTE’s world. Most people complained about Shinji being a whiny twerp in EVANGELION. Now, I’m watching FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST and Edward Elric’s a rude know-it-all (and not in an endearing way.) Then again, they're all trying to save the world in one way or another, so that goes a long way in endearing you to them but, still... I can’t help but see a pattern.
See, I’ve noticed something about villains. Most of the famous villains are ones people “love to hate” but I think the effective ones, the one that are really hard to write, are the one you can’t stand. It’s a bit of head trip to get past when you're in the audience. I can’t think of too many examples in anime, but I’ve encountered a lot in Stephen King books. You can’t stand the villains, you hate what they say, you’re angry whenever they win, you want them out of the story… and then, you realize, that’s the point.
Flowing from the same stream, the heroes I listed earlier have a lot of unlikable traits - - you might even get annoyed by them - - but you can't stop watching. It's really just a matter of execution. A story about likable white hats can be great, but it can just as easily get boring, real fast. And I have to say, it's lot more interesting to see characters like this presented as they would actually be like, warts and all.
Anyway, I'm sure all of you Anime Vice lunatics have plenty examples and counter-examples, so break the dam and let them flow out! Add to my point of reference, here!